“Somewhere in this subject area there is also a question of the external image of hospital buildings. For a patient it is bad enough to be ill, but to be confronted with an image of a regimented, frightening and inhumane monolith will only exacerbate the situation. When conceiving Naas General Hospital, we decided to steer the design towards the familiar image of a small Irish town. The buildings, with their gable walls, steeply pitched fibre-cement slate roofs and variously coloured Monocouche renders, create the very specific character which integrates well into this image.”
Professor Cathal O’Neill has observed that after decades of phased development, “The overall effect is that of a staggered streetscape in a small town, integrated with the wider community.” A ‘hospital street’ runs as an organising spine through the complex on three levels, segregating services, visitors and ambulant patients, and trolleys. In-patient departments overlook the park, while accident and emergency, out-patient departments and administration face north, on the more accessible, town side of the ‘hospital street’.
The strategy of treating the hospital as a town or village, rather than a monolithic building, has also proved successful in facilitating coherent growth over several decades, through phased development and inevitable and unpredictable changes in the brief. The planning module throughout is 7.5m, which is also the structural grid, and this is expressed externally as a gable wall. Each department is rendered as a series of gables, which can be either uniform or of varying height, depending on functional requirements. Lift cores and water tanks are expressed as towers.
“We didn’t want a bedded gable verge,” says Keith Meghen, a director at Wejchert Architects, who joined the project team in the mid-1990s. “We wanted a very sharp shadow, a crisp edge. We built different samples with the contractor and eventually chose a detail with an aluminium verge trim. This was a new thing for Tegral, too, at the time. That’s what gives it a modern, sharp look. We just rendered up behind the projecting aluminium trim.”
The cheery, relaxed and good-humoured domestic appearance of Naas General Hospital, particularly when viewed from across the park – like some wee Hanseatic ensemble, transported from the Baltic – owes much to the architectural mood of the 1980s, when Postmodernism was in full flow. Now, as that short-lived but liberating moment in architecture receives renewed critical attention worldwide and the first exponents are added to the list of protected structures in the UK, it is worth highlighting one of the largest and more memorable examples of the style in Ireland.